How do you know you are a Christian?

How do you know you’re a Christian?

That’s a simple question but one many answer in different ways.They may say they are a Christian because they walked an aisle or said a prayer one day. Others will look to the time they went forward at Children’s or Youth Camp. Still others will say they are Christian because they attend church each week, teach Sunday school, are a Deacon, or give to the church. These are all activities Christian do, but are they the activities that you should look to for assurance of salvation?

Non-believers can do all these activities as well. It is possible to walk an aisle, say a prayer, go forward as a child or a youth, attend church, give to the church, even teach a Sunday school class or become a deacon and you not be a Christian. If both Christians and non-Christians can do these activities, what other actions can we look to that show we are a true believer?

In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus teaches about reconciliation. Specifically, Jesus teaches us how we are supposed to seek reconciliation with one another. He tells us that if someone sins against us, we are to go and tell them how they have hurt us. If they don’t listen, we take two or three people with us as witnesses to the conversation. If they still don’t listen, we are to tell it to the church and the church is supposed to call them to repent and be reconciled to their brother or sister in Christ. If they still don’t listen, we are to treat them as an outsider, as a non-believer.

The process Jesus lays out, teaches us that forgiveness and reconciliation matter to God. It matters so much that He provides step by step instructions as to how we are to seek reconciliation with one another. If a person refuses to reconcile — they show themselves to be non-believers.

What does it mean to forgive someone?

When we forgive someone, we are absorbing the debt a person owes us. We are taking their debt upon ourselves. Someone has to pay the debt. When we forgive someone, we absorb the debt they owe us. Once we absorb it, we absorb it. We stop rehearsing what happened in our minds. We stop talking about it to others. We stop being angry and resentful. We stop seeking revenge.

To forgive means we cancel the debt the person owes us — whether that debt be money, position, status, pain — whatever that debt might be, we cancel it. We “ keep no record of wrongs”, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.

It is here we have to use some wisdom because forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation revolves around repentance. In the section before today’s parable, Jesus is teaching us to seek reconciliation. Reconciliation revolves around us “gaining our brother” or other translations say “you have won your brother over” (NIV84). Winning over or gaining someone back involves us coming to an agreement that they have wronged us. Likewise, it may also mean that we come to the realize that we have wronged them. We repent.They repent. We both seek to not wrong each other in the same way again. The relationship has been restored. That is great. That is exactly what is supposed to happen.

I say we have to use some wisdom and be cautious here because a lot of people just want to sweep another person’s sin under the rug. They want to forget about it and move on like nothing happened. Certainly, that is part of forgiving someone. We don’t hold their sin against them. We forgive their debt. We allow the relationship to move on.

But what I am afraid is that we are often quick to claim forgiveness not for the sake of the offending brother or sister, but for our own sake. We don’t want to do the hard work of seeking reconciliation. We don’t want to go to another person who has offended us and seek to win them back. We don’t want to have to take two or three people with us as witnesses. We don’t want to have to tell it to the church. That is messy. That requires emotional energy. That requires work. We would rather not have to deal with.

I believe that is why many churches are unhealthy. They aren’t willing to deal with conflict. They would rather sweep it under the rug because it is easy. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do, is it? No, He tells us that we are to seek reconciliation with others. When we or the church stop short of the process Jesus outlines for us in Matthew 18:15-20, we not only do the offended party a disservice, but we also do the offender a disservice. When the church is not willing to walk out the steps of reconciliation, or what you might refer to as church discipline, it leaves things in limbo. It makes it hard for the church to operate in a unified way. It tarnishes the reputation of the church in the community. It hinders the church’s mission. It doesn’t glorify God.

Not only that, but when the church stops short, the church allows the offender to deceive themselves into thinking what they did was right and good. That they are not in sin. While that might be easy, it is not what is best for the person.

When it comes to this idea of forgiveness, we have to use wisdom, we have to be cautious. We shouldn’t just sweep a major sin under the rug because it is easier to do so. Doing so doesn’t actually result in true forgiveness.

When you have done that — I am sure you have — when you have swept someone else’s sin under the rug instead of confronting them, in most instances, you have not forgiven them. Deep down in your heart bitterness, resentment, revenge, and the debt they owe is still there. It hasn’t been forgiven. It hasn’t been cancelled. It still exists. That is why Jesus teaches on the subject of reconciliation before He teaches on forgiveness. That is why Jesus outlines steps for reconciliation before teaching on forgiveness. He knows we must seek reconciliation with someone in order to truly extend forgiveness to another. Yes, reconciliation can be much much more difficult. It is emotionally costly. It is taxing. It can be hard and messy. But it is not an option Jesus has given. It is a command. We are to seek reconciliation as a means to extend forgiveness.

Forgiveness is cancelling the debt someone owes us. It is laying it aside. It is absorbing that debt ourselves.

The forgiveness we receive in Jesus should also spur us on to forgive others.

I like what author Jerry Bridges says regarding forgiveness: “The basis of our forgiving one another, then, is the enormity of God’s forgiveness of us. We are to forgive because we have been forgiven so much.” (JC Ryle, Expository thoughts on Matthew, 186.)

When we look at it like that, “Our neighbors offenses against us are [next to nothing] compared with our offenses against God.” The forgiveness we experience, should cause us to forgive others.

When we are unwilling to forgive, we show we haven’t truly understood, nor have we experienced the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God. If we had, we would be forgiving people. Forgiven people don’t hold a forever grudge against someone. They will not seek vengeance. They will be willing to not only seek to gain their brother, as Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 18:15-20, but they will also be willing to extend forgiveness to others.

Are you are forgiving person?

I’m not talking about a “sweep it under the rug” forgiving person, but a truly forgiving person. If you are, you can be assured of your salvation. You can be assured of your place in the kingdom because forgiven people are forgiving people.

If you happen to be having trouble forgiving someone for their sin against you, meditate on the grace and mercy of God. Allow it to warm your heart to a forgiving state. If you need to seek reconciliation in order for forgiveness to be real, allow the reconciling actions of God to spur you on to seek reconciliation with others. Jesus left His throne in order to seek reconciliation. Allow that to spur you on to seek it with others.

Church, don’t leave the process of reconciliation undone. Do your part. Help bring others to a point of reconciliation and forgiveness using the process Jesus provides. The glory of God and the salvation of others is worth the difficulty.

Forgiven people are forgiving people. Forgiving people are assured of their salvation

Why do those who seem to be Christians walk away from the faith?

Counterfeit spirituality can look a lot like true biblical conversion. A counterfeit Christian can show signs of the real thing in their life. They might present like someone who is on fire for Jesus, whose life is changing and turning around. They might praise the Lord, tell others about Him, pray to Him, and come to worship service. At times, they might even make their way into church leadership. But then something happens and you never see them again. I know we have all experienced it. We have all sat next to someone. We have all known someone who seemed like a true convert only to fall away.

When someone walk away, we are left wondering — what just happened? We might have been so sure Jesus had changed their life. We might have even been mentoring and discipling them. But the next thing we know, they aren’t walking with the Lord anymore.

When someone who seemed like a true believer falls away how do we make sense of it?

Why do those who seem to be a part of the family walk out on the family?

Jesus’ parable of the four soils helps us process why those who seem to be believers walk away.

Look at what Jesus says,

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”” (Mt 13:1–9)

Instead of going with His family (Matt 12:49-50), Jesus leaves the house where He was ministering and goes to the sea. The crowd that followed Him was so large, he had to get in a boat to address them.

Jesus tells the crowd a story every farmer and resident of the area would understand. Farmers back then didn’t have the equipment like farmers do today. Most likely this man had a bag with seed in it. In order to plant his crop, he would have to walk around his field sowing it by hand. As the farmer walked around his field sowing the seed, he ended up sowing in 4 different types of soil — the path, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil.

The Seed

In the Parable, the seed represents the gospel. Jesus sows the gospel message. The gospel is referred to here as the “word of the kingdom.”

The good news is that a king has come who will setup another kingdom. A kingdom that is unlike any kingdom in this world. There is no death, disease, injustice, heartache. No sin at all. It is a perfect kingdom. But only those who are perfect can enter the kingdom. The problem is we aren’t perfect people. We are sinners who have rebelled against the King. We are barred from entering the kingdom.

But Jesus has come on our behalf to make a way for us to enter the kingdom. He does so by paying our debt. The wages of sin is death. He dies in our place. All those who believe in Him, His death is our death, and His righteousness is our righteousness. In that way we are able to enter His perfect kingdom.

A kingdom that had come in part when Jesus arrived. One that is breaking into the world now as we live out the kingdom’s ethics. One that will finally and fully come when Jesus returns in the future.

That is the good news, that is the seed Jesus is sowing. If you notice, Jesus sows the gospel message indiscriminately to the crowds who follow Him and listen to His teaching. Some reject His teaching. Some accept it. Others accept it for a while then walk away.

The parables teaches us that there are four responses to the gospel. The response has to do with the people’s heart. The heart represents the soil in which the seed, the gospel message is sown. The message is the same but the soil is different.

Let’s look again at the different types of soil with that in mind and discover why some who seem to be believers end up walking away from the faith.

(1) The Impenetrable Heart

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.” (Mt 13:19)

Again, everyone hears the gospel — that Jesus’ kingdom has come, a kingdom that is drastically different than the kingdoms of this world. A kingdom we can only enter by believing that Jesus is the Messiah who paid the penalty for our sin in order to restore our relationship with the King.

The people who represent the path hear the gospel. Jesus tells us it is not a hearing issue, it is an understanding issue. They hear but they don’t understand.

The reason they don’t understand has nothing to do with a language barrier, or a cultural barrier. The people they hear what Jesus is saying. They hear Him, but they don’t understand His teaching regarding the kingdom. They don’t understand, they don’t grasp that the Messiah has come. That what they see in front of them and who they are hearing from is the Messiah for which they have been waiting. Since they don’t grasp who Jesus is they reject His message. Their heart is as hard as a path that has been trampled by 1000 footsteps. Their heart is impenetrable.

The heart, if you remember, represents our intellect, our emotions, our will. They refuse to allow the gospel message to penetrate their heart so that it affects how they think, feel, and act. They hear what Jesus says, but they flat out reject it. Their heart is hardened to the gospel message.

This represents both religious and secular society today. They have an idea of who the Messiah should be; what salvation looks like. Just think of any gospel today. One of the more popular ones is that we are to be mindful. That we are able to control our emotions and thoughts. That we are able to calm ourselves through meditation breaks throughout the day.

There certainly benefit to taking breaks from stressful situations, allowing ourselves to calm down. But often times the way this occurs is through self motivation and self talk. It is does not occur through believing and trusting in God to be your provider, or that you are accepted in Christ and you don’t need the acceptance of the world. Those who believe a secular gospel or any other gospel besides the biblical gospel, they hear the gospel but they reject it because it doesn’t look like their gospel and their heart is hardened to any form of correction.

Their heart is hardened because of what we learn in verses 10-17. These verses provide a lot of guidance when looking at Jesus’ explanation of the parable. There is a reason this teaching is sandwiched in between the parable told to the crowd and the explanation given to the disciples. We can’t gloss over its teaching. We have to let it inform our understanding of the parable.

In verse 10, Jesus’ disciples ask why He speaks in parables. The implied idea is that parables aren’t easy for everyone to understand. Wouldn’t a straight forward teaching be more beneficial?

Look at Jesus’ response in verse 11:

And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

There is that word “understand” again. The same word that appears down in verse 19 — “they hear but they don’t understand

Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the ability “to know” the secrets of the kingdom. But the ability “to know…the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…has not been given” to them. The Father has given it the disciples, but He hasn’t given it to those who don’t follow Jesus.

To know”, which is ginosko in the Greek, it means to come to an understanding, to perceive, to comprehend. To know what? To know the “secrets of the kingdom”.

When we think of the word secret, we often think of it as something that is hidden that others are trying to find. Some people are able to discover another’s secret because they looked hard enough. Think about an investigative journalist, they are able to uncover the secret life of a high profile celebrity because they looked, they dug hard enough.

While that might be how we often think of that word. The way it is being used here is different.

The “secrets of the kingdom” do not represent that which others sought to uncover but were not able to uncover. They represent those things that were hidden, that were unmanifested. They are those things that remain hidden until God reveals them.God is the only one who knows them. God is the only One who is able to reveal them.

The “secrets of the kingdom” is that Jesus, very God and sole Son of the Father, has come to earth to bring the Kingdom in an upside down way — not through force, but through Sacrifice. To show that He is bringing the kingdom, He has been teaching and performing many mighty deeds that testify to Him as the Messiah.

But those whose hearts are represented by the impenetrable soil reject Jesus. That is because they haven’t been given the ability “to know” to understand the “secrets of the kingdom.”

Even though they see Jesus’ work, they hear Jesus’ message, they refuse to believe. As we see in verse 15,

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”

Because they don’t understand, they reject Jesus’ message of salvation. As a result they dull their hearts, they close their ears and eyes to Jesus’ message. Instead of turning to Jesus and experiencing healing, they turn from Him. Because the gospel message sits on the surface of their impenetrable heart, Satan, who is the deceiver, is able to come and continue his deceptive work in their life.

That’s the first soil. They are absolutely closed off to the gospel because God hasn’t softened their heart and they turn from Jesus hardening their hearts even more to the true gospel, which results in Satan continuing his deceptive work in their life.

(2) The Emotional Heart

Look what Jesus tells us about them — verses 20-21:

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Mt 13:20–21)

Whereas the first soil was absolutely impenetrable, the gospel is able to work its way into the heart of the second soil, but only at an emotional level. These people hear the gospel, the good news about the kingdom, they get all excited. Somehow, someway the message has tugged at their emotions. In the moment, they have a feeling, an emotional response to the message. Maybe it was at Youth Camp, a Revival, or a particular message one Sunday touched them. Because of what they are feeling, they respond. They respond in a positive way.

But the problem is — there is not much depth. There is not really a desire to grow in their understanding of God’s Word, nor to be obedient to it.  It is all about the emotions. It is all about the feeling. It is all about the experience to them. The positive vibes Christianity brings. These are those people who are always chasing that spiritual high.

As long as the feeling, the spiritual high is there, they are with Jesus. But nothing kills a spiritual high like tribulation and suffering that is related to belief in Jesus. When persecution comes, the spiritual high, the emotional feeling one gets about Jesus, disappears. Because the mind and the will were not engaged, they end up falling away from the faith. It is no longer worth it, beneficial for them to follow Jesus. Their safety, their status in the community is more important than being a part of Jesus’ family and entering His kingdom. They choose the temporal over the eternal.

This is why it is important we aren’t just after emotionalism, but that we truly dive into God’s Word. That we purposefully seek to develop an understanding of who God is, who we are, what we can expect from the world. Feelings fade fast when you are being attacked. That attack doesn’t have to be much. It could simple be the way people look at you when you talk about finding Jesus. Or maybe your friends not wanting to hang out with you anymore because you claim to be a Christian. These attacks don’t have to be physical. Your life doesn’t have to be threatened in order for the spiritual high to fade and for you to walk away from Christ.

That’s the second soil. It is all about the Spiritual high, the feelings. When the feelings fade because of persecution and suffering, they walk away.

(3) The Idolatrous Heart

Look at what Jesus reveals about this soil in verse 22:

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Mt 13:22)

This group doesn’t outright reject the gospel. They aren’t all about the feelings, getting caught up in the emotions of it all. That’s not to say that the gospel, that worship doesn’t affect their emotions. It certainly does. But there is some depth to this group. They know God’s Word. They seem genuine.

But we are told that it is “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches [that] choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” In other words, their idols are more important than Jesus.

As we have talked about in the past, an idol is anything you allow to get between you and Jesus. It can be anything other than Jesus that you believe will provide you with satisfaction, joy, purpose in life, and salvation.

It might be your work — Now, we certainly need to take care of our families. I’m not advocating for you not working. But work might be your idol if it consistently takes you away from regularly gathering with other believers. Or maybe it doesn’t take you away from your regular gathering, but you are not willing to take a stand on anything. You are willing to fudge a bit here and there. Operate in the gray or outright break the law in order to get ahead.

Maybe your recreation is an idol — You find yourself on the golf course, the lake or the hunting stand more than in the pew or gathered with others. Or maybe it doesn’t take you away from church, but you know more about the local or national sports team than you do God’s Word.

Maybe money, status, or position is your idol — You are willing to do whatever it takes to gain and keep them even if it means acting contrary to God’s Word.

Those whose hearts are thorny will choose their idol when there is a conflict between the idol and Jesus. They will obey their idol over obedience to Jesus. Whatever it takes to gain and keep that idol, they will do. They will submit to its will over Jesus’.

The result is that these people are unfruitful. They don’t really ever change, they are stagnant. There is no fruit to speak of because all their attention, all their affections, all their time and energy are given to serve the idol instead of Jesus.

If you have been coming to church your entire life, and there is no fruit in your life. There is no peace, patience, joy, kindness, goodness, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, and love. If these fruits aren’t evident in your life,  if you haven’t grown and are not continually growing in these areas, if you know no more about God’s Word than what you learned in Sunday school as a kid, if you haven’t changed, your life might be characterized by the Thorny Soil.

Eventually when a choice has to be made between Jesus and your idol, you we will walk away from Jesus because you care more about the things of the world than you do spiritual things.

That’s the third soil — the idolatrous heart. Obedience to their idol is prioritized over obedience to Jesus.

(4) The Fertile Heart

We finally get to the one that is the true believer. Look at what Jesus says in verse 23,

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”” (Mt 13:23)

This person doesn’t reject the gospel, instead they believe the gospel. They understand its purpose and implication for their life. If you notice this is the only one Jesus says understands the Word. They are the only ones who allow Jesus’ message to penetrate their heart, to affect their mind, their emotions, and their will.

They are not just in it for intellectual knowledge, to prove they are smarter than someone else. They aren’t the continual debater. Nor are they always after a certain feeling, an emotional, a spiritual high. They don’t obey the wishes of an idol. Living according to an idols will instead of the Father’s.

Instead they are wholly engaged — mind, emotions, and will. They are always seeking to learn and understand God’s Word. Their hearts are warmed by worship, their affections are drawn to Jesus. They seek to obey Him with their whole life. They don’t hold any areas back, nor do they put anything above Jesus. They are wholly engaged with their whole self. Mind, emotions, and will. Each are kept in check by God’s Word.

This is the person who is the true believer, the one who ends up being fruitful instead of fruitless. This is the one who will go the distance, who won’t quit at the first sign of persecution. Who won’t allow an idol to draw them away. They will continue to follow Jesus, understanding that the gospel is the only message that saves.

These are the ones who recognize Jesus as Messiah because God has changed their heart, He has made it fertile to the gospel message. He has given them the ability to comprehend the “secrets of the kingdom”. As a result, they turn to Jesus for salvation and they experience healing.

Without God’s work, they would be like the soil on the path, the rocks and the thorns. They wouldn’t give the gospel a second thought, they would allow persecution to drive them away, or they would seek after idols over Jesus. That is how man naturally responds to Jesus. But not those whose hearts are fertile. They respond rightly.

Recognize Blessing from the Lord

As well as those whose hearts are fertile, recognize how blessed they are. Look at the text beginning in verse 16,

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Mt 13:16–17)

If our hearts are fertile, we will recognize the blessing God has poured out on our life, how fortunate we are, how privileged we are to sit at this moment in history. The prophets and righteous men from long ago, longed – they so desired the blessing and privilege we have.

Not only that but if our hearts are really fertile, we will praise God for the salvation He has provided. We will rejoice at our understanding of the gospel of the kingdom! We will long to know and see and understand more. We will allow what we learn to affect us. We will repent of our sins and turn to God on a regular basis. In other words, we will live as true family members of Jesus.

Is your heart fertile? Do you understand the gospel? Has it affected your mind, emotions, and will?

Do you recognize the blessing God has poured out in your life by allowing you to understand the gospel? Do you praise God for your salvation on a regular basis? Is your heart fertile?

Conclusion

The parable of the sower reveals why some walk away. Their hearts are hardened. They are just in it for the spiritual high. They worship and obey their idols over Jesus.

When someone walks away from the faith, don’t loose heart. Don’t loose faith in Christ. Instead, pray for their salvation. Pray the Lord would soften their heart to the gospel. Not only should we pray but preach the gospel to them. We should spread the seed indiscriminately to all. While at the same time praying their hard, unfruitful, idolatrous heart would become fertile soil in which the gospel would take root and be productive.

Yes, people walk away from the faith. But don’t allow their actions to cause you to walk away. Instead, recognize who blessed you are, praise God, pray for them, and spread the gospel to all who will give you a hearing.

Why do we need others to live the Christian life?

Growing up I attended a small private school in Savannah, GA. When I was in fifth grade, we were given the option of taking choir. I say we were given the option of taking this class because you had to miss recess in order to attend. Since recess is kind of a big deal for a fifth-grader, they gave you the option. At first, I wasn’t going to take the class. Recess was way more important to me than singing in the choir. But all my friends were signing up. Recess is only fun if your friends are there, so I decided to sign up as well.

My stint in the choir didn’t last all that long. I wasn’t doing well in one of my other subjects, I can’t remember which one it was, but I wasn’t doing well, so I had to go to tutoring. To this day I distinctly remember the comment the choir director made when he heard I wouldn’t be coming back. He said, “Oh, that’s fine. It’s probably for the best anyways.” While hearing him say that hurt my ego a little, it was true. It was for the best because I was always out of step with the rest of the class. I’m tone-deaf. I can’t carry a tune to save my life.

While it hurt my ego to hear that from my choir teacher, I’m glad I learned early that I was out of step when it came to music, or else I might have ended up on American Idol or something like that as one of the blooper reels. I’m glad someone was honest with me.

We need people who are willing to be honest with us.

Not just when it comes to singing but when it comes to how we are living life. We all need others who are willing to come alongside us and speak the truth in love. If we don’t, we will end up going through life thinking we are great at everything. That is not only dangerous when it comes to our talents, but also the Christian life.

We must have others to whom we are accountable.

We must have others who are willing to speak the truth of God’s Word into our life. If we don’t, we won’t grow. Even worse, we might end up following a false teacher or living contrary to the gospel.

When we live contrary to the gospel and God’s Word, we not only hurt ourselves, but we hurt others as well.

It might not be our first instinct to believe our actions harm the community in which we run because we are conditioned by our culture to think of ourselves and ourselves alone. We are very individualistic in our outlook. While that is how our culture has conditioned us to think, that is not reality. Our actions affect the community in which we live, work, and play. That not only applies to other church members, but it also applies to those we are attempting to reach with the gospel.

If we are living out of step with the gospel, and we don’t have anyone who is willing to tell us we are out of step with the gospel, we are in trouble.

A Gospel-Centered Church Preaches the True Gospel, Resulting in True Conversions

What does it mean to be gospel-centered?

When I talk about us being a gospel-centered church, I mean that we are a church that is centered on the good news that Jesus came to save sinners like you and I. We are centered on the gospel, allowing it to drive how we operate as a church.

Centering on the gospel frees us to place our identity in Jesus and as well as it frees us to believe in, trust in, and rest in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus came to save sinners. Those who center on the gospel realize there is nothing they can do to save themselves. No amount of church work, right living, or giving can provide salvation or sanctification.

Sanctification is just a fancy word for growing to be more like Jesus. Sanctification occurs through the gospel, not through trying harder or by following a set of legalistic rules. We grow as we understand more and more about the grace of God in Jesus. As we grow in our understanding of the gospel, which includes God’s plan highlighted and worked out in Scripture, we should grow in thankfulness for what God has done for us. Our gratitude should propel us to know God more, to understand how He wants us to live, and to actually live in a way that matches God’s desire for our life as a way to glorify Him. If we want to grow as Christians, we must reflect on the gospel, viewing it from different angles like a diamond, and allowing it to do a work in our hearts so as to bring about change.

The only way we experience salvation and sanctification is by believing in, trusting in, and resting in the good news, the gospel — that Jesus saves sinners. That is wonderfully freeing news because it means:

  • We don’t have to keep striving to maintain a self-image that is broken.
  • We can rest from self-salvation and the worry of — have I don’t enough.
  • We can love God for who He is and not for what He gives.

Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel

Being gospel-centered, then, is the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel centers on health, wealth, and material possessions. The end all be all of the prosperity gospel is prosperity, it’s not Jesus and the salvation He offers. Jesus is just a tool to get prosperity.

But prosperity isn’t salvation. It doesn’t provide the identity for which we long. Prosperity just leaves us empty, wanting more. While there is nothing wrong with being prosperous, it can’t hold the center. Only Jesus can. Only He provides us with a true identity and true salvation.

More than Social Justice

Being gospel-centered also involves more than fighting for social justice. The social justice gospel centers on social issues. Those who do social justice seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. You’ll find a social justice warrior fighting against all kinds of social issues including systemic racism. That is good and right. We should seek to end unjust action, treatment, and systems. We should fight against systemic racism.

But these actions can’t be the end all be all of our ministries. The good news, the gospel, is not solely centered on justice. To be sure, justice is part of the gospel. A desire for justice will flow out of the gospel, but it is not the gospel. The gospel centers on Jesus’ work on our behalf.

Not Progressive/Liberal

Being gospel-centered also involves rejecting a Progressive/Liberal gospel. Many in the progressive or liberal gospel movement deny the inerrancy or truthfulness of Scripture. As well as they teach that Christianity is just one of many ways to experience salvation.

But again, the gospel centers on Jesus’ death on our behalf. It teaches us that there is only one way to God, not multiple ways. Those who center on the true gospel don’t seek to progress into new ways of understanding. Instead, they camp out on God’s way of understanding the world, which is found in His word.

In contrast to the prosperity gospel, the social justice gospel, and a progressive/liberal gospel, a gospel-centered church urges its members and those who attend to believe in, trust in, and rest in Jesus’ work on their behalf. They do that by faithfully pointing their people away from sin and towards Jesus by preaching the true gospel, which results in true conversion.

The result of preaching the true gospel is true conversion.

In verse 12, Paul writes,

“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Col 1:12–14)

The true gospel tells us that we are sinners who have rebelled against God. Because of our rebellion we deserve God’s wrath. But God in His grace and Mercy comes on a rescue mission for us, truly saving us.

Every time I read this verse I can’t help but think of a group of Naval Seals sneaking behind enemy lines to rescue a prisoner of war. That image comes to mind because that is what Jesus does. He comes. He breaks into the kingdom of darkness and draws us to Himself. In doing so, He literally transfers us out of one kingdom and into another.

In God’s rescue mission, Jesus is the actor. He is the One who comes. He is the One seeks. He is the One who draws us to Himself and out of the domain of darkness. In Jesus, we are redeemed from God’s wrath. We are forgiven. We are released from the bondage of sin and death. For the first time, we can actually follow Jesus. Not just follow Him out of self will or to gain the approval of others, but we follow Jesus because we desire Him.

Once Jesus draws us to Himself. Once He rescues us out of the kingdom of darkness and transfers us into His kingdom, our affections are changed and we actually want what He wants. Our desires change so that we no longer desire the things of the world but the things of God. We are no longer self-centered but God-centered.

The only way a church’s attendees and members will see true change is if the church centers on the true gospel, preaching it so that those who hear it experience true conversion, and then true change as they learn about and live out their newfound identity in Christ.

Goals Lead to Success but hold them loosely

Goals, whether they are small or large almost everyone has them. That is especially true this time of year. We call them resolutions, but essentially they are our goals for the next year.

Goals for the New Year

Personal Goals

I’ve set some goals for 2021. Like most people, one of my goals is to be healthier. 2020 did a number on me. We went from stocking up on M&M’s to Oreo’s to Ice Cream and then holiday candy and treats. Before I knew it, I had put on 20 in 2020.

If I were to poll the audience, I am sure many of you have a goal to live healthier this next year as well. Or maybe you are planning on striking out on your own and starting a new business. You are finally going to do it. Or maybe your goal is to finish school or that big project you have been working on. Maybe you want to read more or through the Bible in 2021. If you don’t have any other goals, I’d certainly suggest reading through the Bible in a year as a worthwhile goal. Or maybe you want to downsize, clean out those closets and garage. Whatever it might be, I’m sure you have some goals, a New Years Resolution, or two in mind.

Almost 50 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions. 80% of those people believe they will keep their New Years resolution, but the truth is New Years resolutions are not easy to keep. According to the Washington Post, only 46 percent of those who make resolution will keep them for six months and 8 percent the whole year. That is a staggering statistic. Only 8% hit their goal, which means 92% of all people fail at keeping their New Years Resolution.1

Since New Years resolutions are not easy to keep, the goals we set are not easy to attain so:

  • We must be realistic with the goals we set.
  • We need a good foundation upon which to build.
  • We need others to help us realize our goals.

Church Goals

As a church, we need the same. We need a goal for which to reach or we are going to flounder around like a fish out of water. We also have to be realistic with the goals we set. We have to build on a good foundation. We need one another to help us realize our goals.

Goals Lead to Success

We have to know in what direction we are going before we head out. I’d encourage you to develop some personally goals for the year.

If you are a brother pastor, develop some ministry goals as well. Develop goals for your personal ministry as well as your church’s ministry. If we are going to see success in 2021, we must develop goals.

Hold Them Loosely

While it is important we develop goals, we must hold our goals loosely. If 2020 taught us anything, our goals, whether they be personal or ministry-related, might not match God’s goals for us. Develop goals, but hold those goals loosely as you pray for the Lord’s guidance, empowerment, and ultimately for His will to be done.


[1] https://www.finder.com/new-years-resolution-statistics AND https://www.wrpawprint.com/features/2015/01/27/failing-new-years-resolutions/

Why do I have to join a church?

To relate to God, you must do it “covenantally.” He wants all of you; he wants every aspect of you; he wants every bit of you.” It’s silly, but it’s natural that American Christians will say to me, “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Why do I have to join a church?” I say, “What do you mean?”

“Where does it say in the Bible that I have to join a church?”

“On every page,” if you understand the covenant. All joining a church means is you’re willing to make a public vow that makes you accountable for your whole life. That’s what we don’t like because, “Who needs that? The most important thing is the personal and the spontaneous.”

No! The most important thing is every part of you has to go to him. You’re supposed to make yourself a whole burnt offering on the altar. That’s what it says in Romans 12 where it says, “Make yourself a living sacrifice, a whole burnt offering, to the Lord.”

 Keller, Timothy J., The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013)